Chronicling 40: Day 75 of 365

Women Bow And Pray
A group of young women bow their heads and pray with bibles.

“It is not good for man to be alone, I will make a helper suitable for him.”

~Genesis 2:18

What is a Suitable Helper?

More times than I can count, I have heard a woman’s role is the “help meet” of her husband.  I have seen this explained in a variety of ways.  In one account, an author stated that being a help meet was submission to him as the head of the house.  She even went as far as to suggest that when you make dinner, you make what he likes whether you like it or not.  Others would contend that being a help meet is being the caretaker of the home and children, while he is off at work.  There is a designated line of duties if you are the man, and another set if you are the woman.

Helpmeet is a word often substituted for “suitable helper”.  Even this doesn’t really clear up what this term actually means.  So, let’s look at the original text.

Helpmeet = ezer k’engegdo

Ezer is used twenty one times in the scriptures, and most commonly used to describe God’s relationship to man; which is strength.  It is also used eight times as “savior”.  Was Eve a gift of strength to Adam?  Was she a savior to Adam?  In addition to these two definitions, a third is “to rescue”.  Was Eve a rescuer of Adam?   This is a pretty interesting line of questions considering that Eve presented the forbidden fruit to Adam.  Let’s keep going…

K’enegdo is used once in Scripture, which is Genesis 2:18.  This presents a bit of a speedbump, as we have no other Scripture to test it against in order to clarify it’s definition.  When we begin to look at extra-biblical texts, we can narrow it down to “meet for”, “fit for”, and “in front of, opposite”.  That last one, for clarity sake is like looking at one’s reflection in the mirror.  When I am facing a mirror, and I move my left hand… my reflection appears to be moving it’s right hand.  The same image, but yet slightly different.

Have you ever heard a Biblical scholar or Pastor refer to men and women as “equal but different”?  If so, they are referring to this latter definition of k’enegdo.  This we can test against the Scriptures because we know that man was made in the image of God, but are not God.  Genesis continues to point out after both Adam and Eve were created that both were made in the image of God.  In applying this definition to Adam and Eve, we would get that same result.  Alike, but different.

Putting this altogether, ezer + k’enegdo = Helper Reflection.  Eve’s job description was to be a helper to whom she reflected, Adam.

So, how do we help Adam?

Coming from a divorced family, I really didn’t know how to be married or a helper to my husband.  I went to the Scriptures to figure this out, landing on Proverbs 31 “The Wife of Noble Character”.  She was up before the sun, stayed up after the sun went down.  She was a home manager, business owner, cooking and caring for the kids, etc.  So many things, and I tried so hard to be this check list of a wife.  I also failed miserably.

As I began to find more Christian women to bring into my circle of friends, each had their notion of what being a help meet looked like.  Many of these notions lined up with gender stereotypes of what women should do, how they should behave, etc.  I remember having a conversation with a friend about her daughter’s hair. She was complaining about how unmanageable the hair was, when I suggested to just cut it short.  She replied she couldn’t cut it because her husband liked their daughters with long hair.  I chuckled and retorted, “Unless he’s willing to do her hair every morning, I’d cut it and not think twice about it.”

I considered this woman a very godly woman, and a good wife.  Our conversation stuck with me for the rest of the day.  When my husband arrived home from work, I requested that we have a talk.  I wanted to know if I was overstepping my bounds as a wife.  Was I doing things without asking him, things that he wanted to have a voice/opinion/say over?  There were two things he said to me:

  1. Tending to the kids is part of your job at home, do whatever helps your job to be easier.  If it costs more than your normal budget, check with me first to make sure we have the money that week or if we need to put it off until the next pay period.
  2. I’m gone all day working to provide for this family.  I don’t want to be weighed down by questions and decisions you are perfectly capable of making on your own.  I need you to do those things for me, it helps me to not have so much on my plate.

If I am to be a helper of my husband, I have authority to do what makes my tasks easier and what can ease his burden.  I realized right in that moment that being a “suitable helper” or “help meet” would look different from home to home.  My friend’s husband was not wrong, nor was mine.  We were each created to be the helper of our husband, in whatever way that works best for our home.  The stereotypical gender roles have little to do with it.

You Complete Me

In the movie Jerry McGuire, there is a scene where Jerry confesses his love by saying “You, complete me.”.   This says it all, in 3 simple words.  If we are a reflection, but different… it means that just as much as we are the same, we are also slightly different.  We may have different gifts and talents, and that is ok.  My strengths (ezer) complete his weaknesses, and vice versa.  I can come to the rescue (ezer) in the areas he drowns in.  I can save (ezer) him in the areas where he lacks.

I complete him, because I am fit for (k’enegdo) him.  I can meet (k’enegdo) his needs.  I am capable of being his reflection (k’enegdo) even though I am not a 100% copy.

Instead of assuming what a “helpmeet” would look like, we have instead sat down as a couple and talked about our individual needs, relationship, and home.   How do I better help my husband, and also how does he best help me?  While in our home my husband may leave all decisions regarding the daily life of our children to my decision making, in another home a husband may wish to be more involved.  Neither are wrong, just a different take on the same principle.

I think the New Testament couple Priscilla and Aquila is a great example of helpmeets, they were co-laborers as a couple in sharing the Gospel.  It says that when they encountered Apollos, they invited him into their home and they taught him.  This was a couple working together, each bringing their own strengths into this teaching relationship with Apollos.

When I speak about my husband and myself, in terms of The Great Commission, we both have strengths.  My husband has a gift for Evangelism, and I have a gift for Apologetics.  Together, he is the fisherman and I am the one that process the catch.  Equal, but different.  Completing one another, helping one another.  Our gifts don’t compete with each other, there is no trumping or besting of one another, no pushing the other down because I am better at something or he is.  Instead we are co-laboring, lifting each other up.

“Two are better than one because they have good reward for their labor:  If either of them falls down, one can help the other up.  But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.  Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.  But how can one keep warm alone?  Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves.  A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12

Instead of sitting in a blanket, generalized, position based on what others define as “helpmeet”, instead look to where God has positioned YOU in your marriage.  How do YOU help YOUR husband best?

What does this have to do with Deborah and Jezebel?  Deborah, as a godly woman, would have understood that her ministry to her husband/family was important.  She would have understood how they worked together in God’s purposes.  Whereas, Jezebel was not respectful of being a helpmeet.  She was self serving, just as Ahab was.  Neither was looking out for the others interests, but instead their own.  Jezebel wasn’t helping Ahab to true greatness, but instead contributing to his corruption.

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Chronicling 40: Day 70 of 365

DebVsJez

The Scriptures Introduce Jezebel

We first learn of Jezebel in 1 Kings 16:31, she was the wife of King Ahab and daughter of King Ethbaal (King of Sidonians).  Jezebel, like her father, was a worshiper of Baal.  Through Jezebel, King Ahab would also serve Baal.  In 1 Kings 18:4-19, we learn that Jezebel was killing God’s Prophets.  Eventually the Prophet Elijah confronts Ahab for making trouble for Israel, abandoning the Lord’s commands, following Baal.  Through events organized by the Prophet Elijah, the Lord kills prophets of Baal and Ahserah.   1 Kings 19, King Ahab tells Jezebel what happened, blaming Elijah for killing her prophets and Jezebel threatens Elijah’s life.

By the time we get through 1 Kings 19 and 20, Ben-Hadid has attacked twice, and overcome the outlying regions.  A prophet tells Ahab that he would defeat Ben-Hadid twice in order to turn Ahab back to God, to prove that God is greater than Baal.  Ahab was to kill Ben-Hadid.  But instead makes a treaty with him, which is seen as disobedience to God.  The prophet tells Ahab the penalty for this is life for life.  Ahab is described as depressed by this.

In 1 Kings 21, Jezebel returns to the conversation.  King Ahab makes an offer to buy land from Naboth.  Naboth turns down the offer, and basically King Ahab pouts over it.  He goes to bed, refuses to eat.  Jezebel calls Ahab out on his behavior not being very kingly, and in essence tells him to pull himself together and assures him that she will get the land.  To do so, Jezebel sets up an innocent Naboth who is accused of speaking against God and King and he is stoned to death.  Jezebel sends King Ahab out to take the land, now that the owner is dead.  Elijah meets the King and informs him of the penalty for this action: which includes disaster upon Ahab, death of his descendants (sons) and no males from Israel available to him (for his daughters), and that Jezebel will be eaten by dogs.

Surprisingly, Ahab humbles himself before the Lord and he himself is spared (although the consequences will still fall upon his descendants).  We fast forward to 2 Kings 9, where the Lord has anointed Jehu as King.  Jehu kills Joram (son of Ahab and Jezebel), and then Jezebel.  All of which align with the consequences Elijah told King Ahab would fall upon him.

We again hear of Jezebel in the New Testament, Revelation 2:20-21.  It is believed that this is a woman who is not actually named Jezebel but referred to as such because her characteristics are reminiscent of Jezebel. 

So, what do we know based on the scriptures?

  1. Ahab was already not just doing evil in the sight of the Lord, but he was seen as the worst.  He was already corrupt.
  2. Ahab marries Jezebel, who is a Baal worshiper, daughter of Sidonian King.
  3. Jezebel had a strong personality, dominating wife, forceful character, manipulating, vengeful, and unrepentant.
  4. Jezebel was murdering God’s Prophets, threatened Elijah’s life.
  5. Jezebel’s influence extended over her children.
  6. Jezebel was a schemer, proud, and vain.
  7. In the New Testament parallel description in Revelation 2:20-21, this Jezebel calls herself a prophet, misleads people, non-repentant, not without penalty.

Tomorrow, we are going to compare Deborah and Jezebel.  This weekend, we’ll explore why Jezebel is used as an example against women in leadership.

Chronicling 40: Day 67 of 365

numbers

From Yesterday’s Post:

The order of Deborah’s description in her introduction poses the following questions:

  • If the order is significant, then that means her role as a Prophetess would trump her role as a wife. Can we find any place in scripture that states that our role to tend our home/family trumps our calling?
  • If the order is not significant here, then it could impact how we view “order” in other Scriptures.  How can we determine when/which verses where order is something to note and when it isn’t?

We’ve got some big thoughts to unpack here, so let’s dig right into the first point to consider:

The Order of Things:

I have heard many speakers and teachers, and read many books/articles, that state that the order of things matter.  In the introductions of people in the Bible, we learn a lot about who they are in society.  Is this a family member, friend, co-laborer, official, or leader?  Is this a formal letter to deal with an issue, or an informal conversation?  What is the significance of this person or group of people.

When we are introduced to Deborah, she is first listed as a woman, then a Prophetess, then a wife, and then judge/leader of Israel.  As stated yesterday, I believe that it was very intention that Deborah was first identified as a woman.  The rest of the judges were men, and that makes Deborah unique in this role.  Based on my research, I do not believe Deborah was raised up because there were no men available but that Deborah was exactly who God intended for this time and place.  I also believe Deborah’s gender is mentioned first because of imago dei, the image of God.  In Genesis the first thing we learn about God’s creation order of humanity is that man and woman were made in the image of God.  Deborah was woman, imago dei, created in the image of God.

The next ordered description is that Deborah was a Prophetess.  In the Old and New Testament, we see many examples of where the Lord anointed a person with a gift/talent and called that gift/talent into service.  I contended yesterday that prophecy was Deborah’s gift and it was called into service as a judge.  If order is important, then we recognize that her role as a Prophet (chosen to deliver the Word of God and guide Israel) is the key to how she leads Israel.  This is not just a position where Deborah was acting as a legal judge settling disputes, or creating societal rules or laws.  Deborah was leading in accordance to God’s direction, God’s will. While she would rule on disputes and smaller issues, they would have been secondary to guiding Israel and sharing God’s Word.

Third in the order of her introduction is “wife of Lapidoth”.  Yesterday we discussed that the Hebrew word used her can translate to wife or woman.  And, since in the original Hebrew text the first description of Deborah is “woman”, it made sense to assume the word used with Lapidoth would have meant wife.  There would be no reason to list “woman” twice.    There is a lot of educated guessing here because we just don’t know who Lapidoth was.  If it was a man, then clearly she would be his wife.  If it was a city, then she would be a resident of that city.  Again, the wording seemed to be to indicate she was a wife of a person.  However, a third option was revealed in my research.  Easton’s Bible Dictionary suggests that Lapidoth was actually not a formal name but an informal word; lapidoth which means “torch”.  A “woman of lapidoth” in that informal context would mean a “woman of light” or a “woman of fiery spirit”. 

There is literally no confirmation that Deborah was married, or had children.  If we could confirm she was a literal mother, then by default we could safely conclude that Lapidoth was an actual person.  She is only referred to in Judges as a mother of “Israel”, no genealogy is associated with her.  Historically, women (especially those of status) would be 1. unmarried virgin, 2. married woman, and 3. widow.  With the lack of information we must lean into what makes the most sense but also not get hung up in the details that we miss the bigger picture.

If she was unmarried, it could explain her freedom and ability to lead without any distraction.  If she was married, her role as prophetess being listed before her role as wife could be an indication that her calling superseded her marriage.  This is point I want to focus on.  When speaking of women in leadership, we are often cautioned that our marriage/family is our first ministry and greatest calling.  Thus, limits may be put on women in leadership in order to preserve that primary ministry.  If our calling (how God uses us and our gifts for Kingdom purposes) is our primary ministry that changes a lot of how we view women in leadership. 

Can we find any place in Scripture that states that our role to tend our home/family trumps our calling?

The first piece of Scripture that comes to mind is The Great Commission: 

19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the   age.”   ~Matthew 28:19,20

The Great Commission directs us that our “job description” is to 1. make disciples, 2. baptize them, and 3. teach them.  If The Great Commission applies to everyone, then this is the job description of both men and women.  In 1 Corinthians 7:8, Paul suggests that it is better to remain unmarried in order to not be distracted from our ministry work.  Marriage is suggested as a solution for those who can’t “control themselves”.  Single & celibate was better than married, and married was better than single & promiscuous. 

From the very beginning we know that the Divine Order is God first.  No one disputes this, but the next rung on this top down ladder starts to get fuzzy.  Some will place spouse second, children third, moving outward to the community at large.  Some will place self in there, arguing that in order to serve others we must also take care of our selves.  Some will even put children above spouse.  Among all of this, we have to figure out where our calling lands.  Does our gifting/calling come before our spouse?  Our kids?  Our church?  Our community?  Is it last on the list after we have served people generally speaking?

I believe one of the best responses to this topic comes from this piece: Should a Husband Place Ministry or Family First .  I want to focus on these two points:

  • In the New Testament one of the requirements of leadership is that they have been leading their own home well.  One can not lead in the community at the sacrifice of their own family.
  • In the Old Testament when marriage is defined as two coming together as one, leaving their old families behind.  In other words, a husband and wife would be united in their calling to make disciples.

This makes it appear that the family is the priority.  Does that contradict Paul’s words on staying single in order to focus on ministry?  Not at all.  Whether you are single or married, you have a responsibility as a leader to tend to your home.  The requirements in the New Testament for leaders indicates that before they can even be considered for leadership they must be faithful leaders at home.   Within my research I was unable to find any Scripture that supported the notion that calling/ministry trumps our responsibility to our family.

Order Does Matter, but not always.

What does this mean for Deborah?  Most simply it means that either Deborah was single/childless, or that if Deborah was married that her husband was united in her calling.  Regardless of her marital status, I believe Scriptures support that her calling as Prophetess would not have trumped her responsibility to her home life.  So, in this instance I do not believe the order in which Deborah was described is an indicator of which roles were of more importance than others.  In a few days, we are going to look a little deeper into what that means for a leader to be a faithful keeper of the home & helpmeet (particularly in relation to women in leadership).

While I do not see any indication that order mattered here in identifying Deborah, or the importance of her various roles, that doesn’t mean that we disregard the importance of order in any other Scriptures.  Henry DuBose explains this very well in his piece God Works His Will Through Divine Order, when he states:

Divine order is very important, and we find it all the way through the Scriptures. There is a very simple reason for God using divine order like He does. It is because God’s plans are carried out by men. He works through His people. Thus, divine order becomes most important and necessary.

~Henry DuBose

In this piece, DuBose indicates that since God has to employ imperfect men to do the work of His Plan; having instructions in place is an absolute need.  Instructions are the order in which we complete a task or assignment.  The evidence that the Lord uses divine order is seen in too many places to disregard it. 

The complexities and order of creation stand as an evidence of God, so He uses order to reveal Himself to the world.  Between the laws we see listed out in the Old Testament, through the writing of the Commandments, and even into the New Testament … we are shown a God of order.  There is a way to do, and not to do.  A way to behave, and not to behave.  Even a way to make amends, to love, etc.  The Old Testament also gives us prime examples of the consequences of that happens when man steps out of God’s order. 

How Do We Know When Order Matters?

While there are a lot of articles you can read about this subject, I think the simplest way to determine if order matters is to test it against other Scripture. 

Similar Patterns:

In this instance, related to Deborah, the first thing we can do is look at how the other judges were introduced.  There was no consistent pattern to the introduction of other judges.  If order was being established, there would have been a similar pattern among the introduction of each judge.   You can also look at other women in the Scriptures to see if there is a similar pattern in how women are introduced as a whole.

Create Categories:

The second thing we can do is categorize the piece of Scripture being studied.  If you are not sure how to categorize the Scripture, start by asking questions.  What is this about?  What questions does this bring up?    In the case of Deborah, my examination of the order brought up questions about whether calling trumps marriage.  Even if I couldn’t categorize Deborah in a neat and tidy file folder, I knew I could look to Scripture that talked about marriage and family priories. 

Google It:

Even when you want to rely on Scripture to prove Scripture, a Google Search is still helpful.  You can enter the verses into the search bar with words such as:  commentary, support of, criticism of, cross references, opinions, etc.  Within these various articles and publications you will find Scripture references that you can then look up.  You may find the article beneficial or enlightening, or chose to disregard the whole article and just focus directly on the verses it references.

Tuesday:

To learn more about Deborah, we are going to explore her roles are Prophetess, Judge, Leader.  We’ll define the positions, put them in context to one another, see if there are any differences between how Deborah fulfilled these positions and the other Judges. 

Wednesday:

We are going to explore the qualifications for being a leader (Old Testament and New Testament) and discover where women fit into leadership in the general sense.  I’d love to tackle the topic of specific positions, but I think that is better saved for a post after we finish with Deborah and Jezebel topic.

Thursday:

I will wrap up with any final thoughts on Deborah.

Friday:

We meet Jezebel, and begin the break down of who she was… why her story is significant.

Next Week:

I expect that we will walk through Jezebel for about six days, giving her equal time as Deborah.  I’ll wrap up my final thoughts on Jezebel on Wednesday.  Most likely Thursday/Friday, I’ll dive into the the what started this whole exploration:  Don’t Confuse a Deborah for a Jezebel.

Chronicling 40: Day 59 of 365

CLARITY.png

I just want to take a moment to be perfectly clear about my intentions, as we travel this road together.  I am not a woman who is afraid of conversation, nor do I expect everyone to agree with me.  My intentions as I give examples, share experiences, and even my opinion is NOT to do anything more than to challenge thought.

There are some areas where I am still learning and developing my opinions, which you may watch me flesh out on these pages.  I welcome respectful conversation, however challenging it may be.  Not everyone will agree with me, or see things from my perspective.  I am okay with that, after all who am I?  I am no final authority.  I’m willing to admit I am wrong, or see another well expressed perspective.

I only ask that if you are going to present that argument, do so with your evidence.  Give me the scripture, quote the author/speaker/etc that you heard it from.  Any talking down, accusations, etc are unwelcome because they are not helpful.  Real discussion and learning comes from sharing information, and opinions coupled with the explanation of how we came to that opinion.

One thing that I see happen often when anyone talks about women in leadership, is this weird posse that shows up accusing her of being a pulpit stealing Jezebel.  So let me set this fact in stone:  I do not seek a pulpit.  I do not feel called to be a Pastor, never have.  Nothing about what the Lord has laid before me indicates that there is any chance of me heading in that direction either.  Therefore, should I choose to delve into that specific topic it will be done from a neutral stance not a self serving one.

I’m going to explore a lot about leadership, past to present.  I will probably dream a little about what leadership for women will look like in the future.  This topic will cover leadership in the professional (secular) world and in the realm of ministry.  I’ll discuss it in theory, as well as share the practical side of it too.

My purpose will not be to tear down anyone (or any gender), but instead to tear apart to topic and dissect to it’s core… in order to better understand it.  How do we know how to keep a healthy body?  Because we learn how the body works, what does it need to survive at an optimal way, what causes it harm, etc.  Same goes for leadership, we need to understand it at the core in order to understand what works and what doesn’t.  This includes really understand what the Bible says about leadership in general, as well as in regard to specific genders.

I hope you are not willing to just come along for this ride, but be a part of the conversation… genuinely.   Reading to understand, not reading to build an argument.  Sharing facts, scripture, quotes, etc to support your stand.  Having conversations with those around you, outside of this blog to see it in real practical life experiences.

My hypothesis:  things are not as black and white, one way or another, as they appear.

Women’s Ministry – #Write31Days

MBA

Have you noticed it, a shift happening in your church in regards to the Women’s Ministry.  Are you seeing a change in attendance and commitment, or are you caught up doing the same thing you’ve always done?  I’m sensing it, a change in the air.  Women’s Ministry leaders and teams are feeling the call for a more meaningful ministry.

When Women’s Ministry starts to fade, it is due to a lacking somewhere in the ministry.  A lack of support from the church, maybe.  An inability to meet the needs of the women in the church, possibly.  A fracture in the ministry team or ineffective leader, another viable option.  A growing, thriving, successful ministry doesn’t just arbitrarily take  u-turn and fade into oblivion.  Something was happening behind the scenes.

A Women’s Ministry that is just treading water, reminds me of the lukewarm Christian.  Doing just enough to survive, be present, placate the women with an offering of fellowship events and activities without asking too much of them.  It is a ministry that takes no risk, and goes through the motions.

The Women’s Ministry that has ignited a fire in the body of women, is a ministry that has set it’s sights on Kingdom work.  They are not afraid to challenge women and take them out of their comfort ones.  It is a ministry that cares for the spiritual life of the women it serves, and consists of leaders who die to self to serve well.

It is time, Women’s Ministry leaders, to stop seeing Women’s Ministry in the scope of how we have always done things.  It’s time to take this role given to us seriously by creating a ministry that is gospel centered, and disciple making.  Our purpose to Women’s Ministry should first and foremost be ministering to women in their need.  What do women in the church need?

  • They need to be biblically literate.
  • They need to understand how to defend their faith, not just to others but to themselves when she finds herself in a season of doubt.
  • They need a community of iron sharpens iron sisters, who bear each others burdens, provide wise counsel, encourage one another, and with whom we celebrate victory.
  • They need to know what their spiritual gifts are, and given a place to use them.

Our goal should not be to make converts, but disciples.  As leaders we need to create discipleship tracks that walk women through their faith journey, instead of abandoning them at the foot of the cross.

Tend the Orchard – #Write31Days

This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit,

showing yourselves to be my disciples.  John 15:8

Oh, to bear much fruit.  Good fruit.  This is a good thing for the body of believers.  In order to bear much fruit we need a few things to happen.

  • Seeds of the Word planted in good, fertile soil.
  • Daily exposure to the Son.
  • Nourishment through the Living Waters.

Our roots grow deep in the word, our tender shoots are fostered the God and the Pastors who lead the church we sit in from week to week.   We grow stronger, and then it is time for us to begin bearing good fruit, much fruit, and fruit that is long lasting.

Whether you are leading a church, a women’s ministry, or a small group… you will have an impact on how much fruit your members produce.

A careless orchardist will trim back the trees too far, which can limit their growth, limit their fruit, and even kill the tree.

A good orchardist will know how to trim to tree in a way that will encourage growth, foster repeated burst of fruit, and tend to the tree so that it continues to produce fruit for many years to come.

A few years ago, a woman I know approached a Pastor.  She had a gift and talent, and she wanted use it in her church.  He didn’t spend anytime talking with her about her offer, he responded swiftly:  “We don’t do that here. Thanks for offering.”

This past summer, I was speaking with a Pastor about the role of women’s ministry in the church.  As I shared my view on the need for women’s ministries to come up along side the Pastor’s vision, he placed his hand on my shoulder and said:  “What I want the women in my church to do, to help me the most, is to serve their husband and children well.”

A man I know spent years evangelizing on the streets of his city.  By the time he moved to a new city, he had gotten wrapped up in life, and a bit complacent.  After attending a men’s conference, he was convicted of his lukewarm Christianity and was ready to step back up to the plate.  He met with his new Pastor, confessed his complacency, and said he wanted to serve in the church.  The Pastor didn’t even take a moment to learn about this man’s background, but instead responded:  “No, brother.  Let us serve you.” 

I’ve listened to women share ideas at Women’s Ministry meetings only to have their suggestion dismissed for a myriad of reasons.  A leader who can’t see the value others can add to the ministry, looking for workers to do her bidding vs. Kingdom work.  Dismissing ideas without even listening to them in entirety.  Dismissing people who want to serve without knowing their background, credentials, or heart to serve.

In the last several years, I have spoken with many men and women who have stepped up to the plate to bear fruit, only to be trimmed back sometimes to the point of death of their dream or calling.  A person can only be rejected so many times before they stop offering.  A person can only be dismissed so many times before they stop feeling valuable.

The Bible tells us that every believe is given gifts, fruit bearing gifts.  These gifts will vary, and how they will be used will vary as well.  A leaders we have a responsibility to help those we lead identify their gift, develop that gift, and find a place to serve with that gift.

Not just some believers, but all believers.  That means when a Pastor looks over his podium to the 50 people or 5,000 people who are in his flock… each person has a gift to bear fruit.  If your body is not bearing fruit, it’s imperative to determine WHY.  If you are leading a Women’s Ministry of 15 women or 150 women, and your ladies are not bearing fruit, there must be a reason.

Before we look out to the faces we serve to place blame, we must examine ourselves as the leaders first.  Am I guilty of dismissing the gifts of service that have been offered to the ministry?  Am I guilty of dismissing people who have sought to step up to the plate and serve? Am I guilty of not recognizing the gifts in all of our members, helping to develop those gifts, and finding a place for those gifts to be used in our church or community?

A tree that has the gift of bearing fruit, can only bear good, plentiful, long lasting fruit if the conditions for this success are met.  If the Lord has planted a good seed in fertile soil, light from the Son, showers of Living Water… the roots will grow.  However, if that tree is continuously neglected by those charged to care for it and trimmed too far back, the fruit will be minimal … if any at all.

The Art of Conversation

conversation

There are some people who simply love to talk, about anything and everything.  You either know one, or you are one.  I am one.  I love to talk coupled with a love of learning… I’m always ready to engage.  However, sometimes my love of conversation engagement will get me into hot water.   I definitely have subjects where my opinions are set & it would take a miracle to change my point of view.  On the other hand, I have subjects where I am happy to admit that I lack any real knowledge with an eagerness to learn.  Some days, admittedly I am not in the mood to talk at all (that’s my inner introvert saying ENOUGH with the gabby gabs!).  On most topics I will generally land somewhere in the middle.  I know a little, willing to learn more, and you may even change my opinion.

So, how do I end up getting myself in hot water?  At first, I really wasn’t sure.  I thought I was a good conversationalist.  I listen, ask questions, and share my perspective.  I may get animated but rarely overbearing.  I generally don’t try to force my opinion on someone, but would rather ask questions that will move them to think differently about the subject on their own.  If I can help someone learn or change their perspective, that is great.  But if not, it’s fine… let’s order up another coffee and move on to something else.  My feelings are not hurt if a conversation is going no where and you want to end it, or jump to something more interesting. 

I also consider myself a fairly open book, I think you can ask me just about anything and I’ll answer you.  As a whole, I don’t think I have ever received a question as someone passing judgement.  Nor, do I despise unsolicited advice.  In fact, the only time unsolicited advice gets me riled up is when you interrupt me before I can even share that I found a solution.  These are all attributes that I think make up a good conversationalist, and I expect those that I converse with to have these same attributes.

And that expectation lands me in hot water, over and over again.   What I realized is that the issue was not necessarily with me but instead the decline of true conversation.  We are losing the art of conversation and instead embracing the art of debate.  Listening shifted from being a tool for learning and into a tool for debate.  We don’t listen to learn or gain perspective, instead we listen to respond.  We are building up our argument as the person is talking versus allowing ourselves to really hear what they are trying to convey.  This is what I believe has led us to a place where we are talking in circles far more often than we should.

When we are talking in circles it means that both sides are unwilling to hear the other person and continue to make their points over and over again.  We want to be heard, but we are not willing to hear.

In my experiences this has led people into reading more into my statements or comments than there really is.  You see, I believe a question can be just that a question.  It can be rooted in curiosity, branching out for more clarity, or an attempt to glean some fruit of knowledge I lacked.  Some questions are for the sake of keeping the conversation going, even if we are not interested in it the topic, we are showing respect to the person talking.   I believe questions and conversations can exist free of judgment and intolerance.  Well, I believed that at one time.

I was worried at first it was just something that was happening in social media.  I mean, really, how much clarity can your statement have if you are limited to 140 characters?  As my husband points out, social media lacks the opportunity to read body language and hear vocal tones.  It is easy to misunderstand or misinterpret written conversation, questions, and intentions.  I recall a time where typing in all caps on the internet was considered yelling at a person.  Current generations don’t see it that way at all.  Just like social media, texting and emails present the same issues.

In recent years, however, I have begun to notice the art of conversation is being lost in face to face conversations.  We can blame it on the increasing levels of political correctness, or the fact that is seems like everyone is offended by something.  My nine year old had a friend over to play the other day, and I can assure you there were at least ten instances where I heard her friend state: “I am offended by that…” in one phrasing or another.

Simple questions, or even complex ones, are being perceived as personal attacks and judgement.  Conversation is shut down because instead of taking the time to answer questions, we become quick to accuse the person of some wrong doing, ignorance, or jump right into slander/name calling. 

A few years ago, I remember having a conversation with another mom.  She had some rules for her kids that were pretty strict.  One day, when I was at her home, I asked what I thought was a simple question out of curiosity.  It appeared she had decided to loosen up the reigns on one of her rules and I was curious about how she came to that decision.  Instead, she took my question as judgement on her parenting.  She answered my question, but there was a tension the rest of our visit. 

Only a few months ago I was attempting to engage on a hot button, controversial topic.  I stated a truth, from my perspective, which was that the topic didn’t particularly relate to my life experiences.  I shared however that I had friends who did experience this issue in their lives, and they can’t agree with each other on how it needs to be addressed.  I then followed my statement with the question:  “If those who are directly impacted by this topic can’t agree, how am I supposed to respond in support?”.   And that is when the eruption began of insults hurled at me, accusations, and other terrible things.  I retracted my question and slunk away from the topic.  There was not going to be any conversation in that arena.

Even just this past week, I asked a question about ministry service and leadership… and according to the people in the conversation I should expect Jesus to take my Christian Membership Card back any day now.  To even pose such a question and take an intellectual look at the scripture was some sort of indicator of witchcraft.  Yes, I was accused of witchcraft for asking a question, about biblical leadership, and using bible verses in my question. 

What I have found is that the lost art of conversation isn’t confined to one area.  It is lost in the written and the spoken word.  The art of conversation has been lost on subjects about day to day living, and in large platform forums.  The irony is that when whenever something big is happening, and we look to resolve it, someone always says that we need to “have a conversation” or that a particular incident has “started a conversation”.  But, I can’t help and wonder … has it?

Are we even capable of having real conversations anymore?  Can we discuss subjects with out taking things personally or as attacks on our character?  It is possible to navigate through the tough topics without assuming the person coming from the other side isn’t genuine or is incapable of understanding?  Can we talk without hurling accusations and talking down to others?  Can we disagree on a subject and yet respect each other?  Did we forget that we can understand another person’s position without actually agreeing with them?

Fortunately, I do have a handful of women that I can have conversations with.  I do miss being able to do it on a broader scale, because that is where I am most challenged about my own beliefs and opinions.  It is where I will learn the most, from others who have a different experience or education level than myself.  Maybe if we could restore the art of conversation, there would be a lot more understanding and a lot less being offended in the world.  Because, then we would be listening to understand instead of listening to argue.